“Oh, I blame the f-ckin Internet. No Question.” (375)

We still have a couple of weeks for summer reading left, and here’s one from five years ago, the last time Thomas Pynchon published a novel. Pynchon, as always, defies easy description, but Bleeding Edge is enough of a techno-thriller, with elements of the fantastic, to qualify for this site.

Title: Bleeding Edge
Author: Thomas Pynchon

First published September 17, 2013

ISBN-10: 1594204233
ISBN-13: 978-1594204234

Available from Amazon.uk, Amazon, Amazon.ca, and as a kindle.

Premise:

Thomas Pynchon’s reputation rests with the three novels that established him: his debut, V (1963)1, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), and the monumental Gravity’s Rainbow (1973). A long period fell before he published again, in the 1980s and, while his next five books have much to recommend them. His last two have a reputation for being Pynchon Lite: Inherent Vice (2009) proved so accessible that it even became a movie. Bleeding Edge follows an investigator looking into potentially corrupt practices by a tech company between the Dotcom Bubble and 9-11. She plunges into conflicting explanations of reality, and into the dark, labyrinthine world that has been ours since the Web became a part of everyday life—and, in this novel, the abode of the departed.2

Low Points:

Pynchon’s fiction questions the nature of perception and reality itself. Readers cannot expect a conventional novel. In some of his writing, he presents some context for the craziness: Gravity’s Rainbow gets narrated through the impressions of psychic investigators and the narration does not distinguish among consensus reality, perceptions, and fantasies. The narrator of Inherent Vice is affected by both drug use and paranoia. In other works, he simply presents a stylized world. It’s weird and dreamlike because that’s what Pynchon does.

Doubtless I’m missing something, but much of the novel that leads to 9-11, however entertaining, doesn’t quite fit with what follows, in terms of tone and context of reality (the surreally comic visit to the strip club, for example). As a reader, I would have enjoyed a somewhat shorter and slightly more coherent (I know, Pynchon) journey leading to September 11 and everything after….

High Points:

…chapters which justify Bleeding Edge and Pynchon’s reputation for genius. Pynchon captures the ambiance of 9-11 and its effect on society, without going overboard into any interpretation. We have hyperpatriotism and we have the satire of hyperpatriotism. We get disturbing conspiracy theories and equally uncomfortable refutations for those theories. And we get the video that fell into the protagonist’s hands just before the event, which may or may not be a vital clue.

Equally impressive: the depiction of Halloween that year, and the incredible voyage into DeepArcher (read it aloud), a site apparently haunted by literal ghosts.

The Scores:

Originality: 6/6 Pynchon, in his seventies (now 80s), remains one of the most inventive writers alive. Few authors could make kidnapping by Russian thugs sound quite as hilarious as he manages.

Imagery: 6/6

Can’t you feel it, how everyone’s regressing? 11 September infantilized this country. It had a chance to grow up, instead it chose to default back to childhood. I’m in the street yesterday, behind me are a couple of high-school girls having one of those teenage conversations, ‘So I was like, “Oh my God?” and he’s like, “I didn’t say I was see-een her?”‘ and when I finally turn to look at them, here are these two women my own age. Older! your age, who should know better, really, Like trapped in a fuckin time warp or something.”

Oddly enough, Maxine’s just had something like it happen around the corner on Amsterdam. Every schoolday morning on the way to Kugelblitz, she’s been noticing the same three kids waiting on the corner for a school bus. Horace Mann or one of them, and maybe the other morning there was some fog, maybe the fog was inside her, some incompletely dissipated dream, but what she saw this time, standing in exactly the same spot, was three middle-aged men, gray-haired, less youthfully turned out, and yet she knew, shivering a little, that these were the same kids, the same faces, only forty, fifty years older. Worse, they were looking at her with a queer knowledgeable intensity, focusing personally on her, sinister in the dimmed morning air. She checked the street. Cars were no more advanced in design, nothing beyond the usual police and military traffic was passing or hovering overhead, the low-rise holdouts hadn’t been replaced with anything taller, so it still had to be “the present,” didn’t it? Something, then, must’ve happened to these kids. But next morning all was back to “normal.” The kids as usual paying no attention to her.

What, then, the fuck, is going on? (336)

Story: 4/6 We have a meandering tale that resolves very little.

Characterization: 5/6 More might have been done with character, but Pynchon gets points for juggling so many of them over the course of 400+ pages.

Emotional Response: 5/6 When this novel works, it really works. I found the first half slow going, if often entertaining, and Pynchon’s sense of humour remains as deranged as ever.

Editing: 4/6 The writing is brilliant. The novel feels like it would have benefited from revision.

Overall score: 5/6

In total, Bleeding Edge receives 35/42

Notes

1. For those of you who don’t read Pynchon, V is in no way, even remotely, connected to the reptilian-invasion miniseries, though, given the multiple meanings of “V” in his novel, I suspect the confusion delights the author.

2. Metaphorically true, since our web presence outlives us. Science-fictionally possible, since we may be digitally duplicated some day. Literally true, in this novel (if anything is), since characters encounter the departed online, and the ghosts of 9-11 congregate at DeepArcher.

The Internet is apparently also good for curses.